This sermon, offered by The Rev. Andy Jones at Saint Andrew’s Episcopal Church, in Madison Wisconsin, on March 29, 2018, is build around the reading assigned for Maundy Thursday in the Revised Common Lectionary.
You can find those readings here.
Here is a recording of the sermon.
Here is a transcript of the recording.
May the words of my mouth, and the meditations of our hearts, be always acceptable in your sight, O Lord our strength and our Redeemer.
Please be seated.
Thirty-eight days of Lent are enough to heighten anyone’s sense of the holy, to attune us to the ebb and flow of the divine and moving around us. But even without this preparation, even without the season that lies behind us, it would be hard not to miss the tension this evening. Jesus knows that he is about to leave and go to his father. The authorities have made their plans. The soldiers lie in wait to arrest him. And here in an upper room, Jesus gathers with his closest disciples to share a meal.
In the midst of the tension and anxiety that we feel all around us, it’s natural to long for something, anything to do. And thankfully, Jesus had some very clear instructions for us this evening. As we heard from our epistle reading this evening, this is the setting where Jesus institutes the sacrament of the last supper; telling us to remember him, do this in memory of him, every time we break this bread and drink this wine. Then Jesus washes his disciple’s feet and tells us that we should love one another as he has loved us, that we should love one another as he has loved us. That could be a scary moment. Here as the dark is gathering outside the walls of this place, waiting to crush in on us, loving one another as he has loved us can lead us to some very scary places indeed. But he’s but he’s given us a way, I think, to imagine, to proceed, to participate in that love here in this act in which we are about to participate.
Jesus calls us to a life of service, to loving one another through acts of kindness and support. Washing someone’s feet was a task that was relegated to slaves and servants in a household. And here Jesus, the master the teacher, gets down on his hands and knees, with a towel tied around his waist, and washes the filth from the streets of Jerusalem, from the feet of his disciples.
Peter seems shocked by this reversal of status and rank and power. “You will never wash my feet!”
I think that there’s something very important for us to hear in the humility that Jesus calls us to in this moment; to wash one another’s feet regardless of rank, or status, or position, to serve one another. But there’s something else going on here too.
I’m not sure what it was about feet. Jesus tells us that you may be bathed and clean but you still need to have your feet washed. I was told earlier this week that another sermon about corns, and warts, and bunions, and twisted pinky toes, was not the thing for this evening. So I won’t go there.
But I also imagine that it is, see that it is, our feet that carry us into all the places that we’ve been in our lives. Our feet bear the scars and the infirmities of the wrong steps that we have taken, the rocks that we’ve stubbed our toes against, the obstacles with which we have collided, as we’ve blundered around in the dark.
Something about his feet, whether it was that bunion or the scars from the places he’d been… Peter didn’t want to reveal them to Jesus.
But here’s the thing. If we are going to love one another as Jesus loves us then we need to be prepared serve. We also need to be prepared to be served. Love doesn’t exist without the willingness to be vulnerable. love doesn’t exist without the willingness to reveal who we truly are, to reveal our faults, to reveal our past, to reveal our fears and dreams. If we keep those things hidden under our shoes and socks then we might always doubt that the other really can love us. Because if they knew us for who we really are, with all of our warts, and bunions, and ingrown toenails exposed, surely they wouldn’t love us.
So loving one another as Jesus loves us comes in two parts. Love is reciprocal. Love goes back and forth, flows from one to the other. And purely pragmatically speaking, if no one’s willing to have their feet washed then we can’t wash anybody’s feet. We need to be willing to be vulnerable. We need to be willing to risk in order to love.
That may be the most important thing that we take away from this evening; that when we encounter people, when we encounter people we like, people with whom we get along… when we encounter people whom we don’t like, with whom we disagree, with whom we don’t get along… we need to be willing to risk taking off our shoes and socks. We need to be willing to risk vulnerability. We need to be willing to let our guard down and enter in to a reciprocal relationship so that there’s some opportunity for us to come together and move forward.
Jesus says it is by your love that they will know that you are my disciples. And so I ask you if we’re not willing to take that risk… then who will?